Merkley, Smith Unveil Plan to Prevent Pharmaceutical Companies from Price Gouging COVID-19 Vaccines, Treatments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley continued his leadership in tackling pharmaceutical companies’ price gouging by teaming up with U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) today to introduce legislation to ensure that any taxpayer-funded vaccine or treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19) proven to be safe and effective will be accessible, affordable, and available to all individuals.

The Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Price-gouging (MMAPPP) Act would prevent price gouging on any COVID-related vaccines or treatments. Specifically, it would forbid monopolies and exclusive licensing of any taxpayer-funded COVID-19 vaccine or treatment, require reasonably affordable prices for those drugs, and improve transparency from drug manufacturers on expenditures related to COVID-19 vaccines or treatments. It would also prohibit price gouging of drugs used to treat future diseases that cause a public health emergency.

“The only way we’re going to beat the coronavirus is if everyone—regardless of their income, zip code, or the color of their skin—has access to the tools they need to be safe and healthy,” said Merkley. “Drug companies can’t be allowed to use this deadly pandemic as another opportunity to price-gouge Americans on lifesaving medications—especially not when we, American taxpayers, are funding the research that makes their products possible. We to have to put the interests of the American people above pharmaceutical executives’ profits, and require that any coronavirus treatments and vaccines are affordable for all.”

Specifically, the MMAPPP Act would:

  • Prohibit monopolies and exclusive licensing of taxpayer-funded drugs that are used to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or treat COVID-19 to ensure these drugs are universally and fairly accessible;
  • Require the federal government to mandate reasonably affordable prices for any new, taxpayer-funded drugs used to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or treat COVID-19;
  • Safeguard transparency by requiring manufacturers to publicly report a detailed breakdown of expenditures related to any drug used to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or treat COVID-19, including specifying what percentage of expenditures were sourced from taxpayers; and
  • Prevent price gouging of drugs used to treat future diseases that would cause a public health emergency by waiving exclusive licenses and providing companies reasonable compensation.

In addition to Merkley and Smith, the Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Price-gouging Act is cosponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“Now, more than ever, we need to call on the pharmaceutical industry to put people before profits.  As a nurse, I have witnessed first-hand the impact of high cost medications on low-income workers, Black Oregonians, the elderly and LGBTQ communities.  These are the people that frequently have to choose between food, housing and medication.  It is not right for the most disenfranchised members of our society to bear the cost of big pharma’s greed on their backs. Pharmaceutical companies need to be completely transparent about the cost and process of developing the drugs needed to treat and prevent not just COVID 19, but all future health emergencies,” said President Lynda Pond, RN, Oregon Nurses Association.

“At OFNHP we believe that healthcare is a basic human right and patients should always come before profits. Price gouging by big pharma and PPE manufacturers and suppliers during a global pandemic is anathema to our core values. It puts both patients and frontline healthcare professionals at unnecessary risk for no good reason other than to pad the pockets of the corporate elite and shareholders. We support the efforts by Senator Merkley and other officials to prevent these morally reprehensible and irresponsible practices,” said Amy L. Hansen, RN, Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, AFT Local 5017.

“We applaud Senator Merkley for this bipartisan legislation that seeks to ensure that a COVID-19 vaccine, when it comes, will be affordable for working families. The federal government has poured billions of dollars into new drug research through the National Institutes of Health and grants to pharmaceutical companies. In return, these companies should forgo their usual monopoly practices to make sure any vaccine or therapeutic drug developed with the aid of taxpayer dollars will be widely available for workers and their families, here in the U.S. and overseas. In a public health emergency, we must end business as usual when it comes to prescription drugs,” said Graham Trainor, President, Oregon AFL-CIO.  

Merkley has long championed taking on the greed of pharmaceutical companies that gouge patients with sky-high drug prices—and has introduced legislation to end drug companies’ exorbitant price hikes on insulin, as well as a bipartisan bill to prohibit drug companies from charging Americans more than they do in other countries. He recently led his Senate colleagues in a letter to the administration requesting a detailed COVID-19 vaccine strategy, including making the vaccine available to all Americans for free.

The MMAPPP Act is endorsed by the Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Progressions, Oregon ALF-CIO, Health Care for All Oregon, Public Citizen; Lower Drug Prices Now; Patients for Affordable Drugs; Families USA; ACT UP Philadelphia; AIDS Healthcare Foundation; the Alliance for Retired Americans; American Federation of Teachers; American Muslim Health Professionals; Americans for Tax Fairness; Arkansas Community Organizations; CASA in Action; Center for Popular Democracy Action; Coalition on Human Needs; Communities United; Congregation of Our Lady of the Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces; Consumer Action; Consumers’ Checkbook/CSS; Equality North Carolina; Faith in Healthcare; Hero Action Fund; Hispanic Federation; Indivisible; Knowledge Ecology International; MomsRising; NASTAD; National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd; NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; Oxfam America; Peoples Action; Public Advocacy for Kids; Right to Health; Pandemic Prevention Project; Social Security Works; Treatment Action Group; Young Invincibles; AFL-CIO.

You can read a summary of the bill here.